Citizens Advice estimates so-called ‘free trial’ slimming pill scams will cost UK consumers around £1 million in the financial year of 2014-15 alone. Free trial scams are spreading into many other product areas, so consumers are likely to lose more money to this scam in the long run.
For this reason the National Trading Standards eCrime Team, along with Getsafe Online is supporting the second week of Citizens Advice’s Scams Awareness Month 2015 with an infographic aimed at highlighting the problem of ‘free trial’ scams, also known as subscription traps.
Subscription traps work by tempting people with free trials for slimming pills and other related ‘health’ type products, such as anti-wrinkle and anti-aging creams, skin cleansing products, muscle gain or growth, teeth whitening, and hair growth products to name but a few.
People are duped into giving their credit card or debit card details to pay for up to £5 of postage and packing. Scammers use a variety of tricks to secure the right to take monthly subscriptions for these products out of consumers’ bank accounts. The right to do this is often buried in small and detailed terms and conditions that consumers often accept without knowing they have given that right to a scammer.
These terms and conditions sometimes come with a pre-ticked acceptance box, or an implicit acceptance that in placing an order the consumer accepts the T & Cs. By agreeing to them people effectively form a contract with the seller and unwittingly agree to what is called ‘a continuous payment authority’ (CPA). This is just the technical term for taking regular payments out of your account without having to ask each time.
In a recent YouGov survey of just over 2,000 adults only around 1 in 5 people (21%) knew the difference between a CPA and a direct debit. These payments can, in theory be for any amount of money taken at a time a scammer chooses. Many traders either misuse CPAs or scam consumers out of significant sums of money that in many instances they can’t afford to lose. You can read more about this problem in the blog post: ‘Think you’re getting a ‘free trial’? Fat chance!’ on the Citizens Advice website.
So please help spread the word about free trial scams or subscription traps using the hashtag #scamaware, and share this infographic with your friends and family during Scams Awareness Month this July.